Wikipedia may be one of the world's most popular Web sites, but it's also an amateur anthropologist of sorts. A new list of the top 10 Wikipedia searches in a number of different languages offers an interesting portrait of what captivated worldwide Internet users this year.
The data was published by Swedish software engineer Johan Gunnarsson, and while it contains a few random oddities (anyone know why the top entry for Germany is "cul-de-sac?"), it does provide a neat look back at which news events mattered to different countries.
In the U.S., the searches were fairly pop-culture focused, with top hits such as "Facebook," "The Avengers," "Fifty Shades of Grey," and the British boy band One Direction, which popped up on several of the other lists as well.
Facebook also showed up on the Spanish Wikipedia's list, but that one also included "cultura Maya," potentially thanks to the Mayans' domination of news cycles leading up to Dec. 21. (That conversation also came up in France, where one of the top 10 searches was "predictions for December 2012").
Several nations turned to Wikipedia to learn more about their leaders, with South Korean president-elect Park Geun-hye, Mohammed Morsi and Francois Hollande making appearances on their respective countries' lists.
Greece's list reflected its economic woes, with the entries for "Europe" and the extremist right-wing party Golden Dawn making the top 10. The popularity of Golden Dawn and its anti-immigrant platform surged this year as Greece has continued to struggle with high unemployment and stiff austerity measures.
Perhaps revealing a regional sports obsession, the Euro soccer championship made an appearance on both the Dutch and German lists, but the Olympics did not.
Internet sites of all stripes became popular search terms. Baidu, a Chinese search engine, topped China's list. In Russia, two regional social networks, Odnoclassniki and Vkontakte, ranked highly.
Living in an Islamic society seemed to only encourage users to search for illicit activities, with "sex," "female circumcision" and "homosexuality" making it to Iran's top 10.
And of course, no Internet list would be complete without porn, which might be why in Japan, an adult video actress's page topped the list, and Russia's had "pornography" ranked highly.
A caveat for all of the lists is that other languages' Wikipedias have far fewer users than the English one does — some of the most-popular Arabic pages, for example, have only a few hundred thousand views — so the sample size is quite low for the smaller Wikipedias. What's more, many countries block key Wikipedia articles, such as those about their own politicians or sensitive historical events, so those users might not turn to it as a source of information about important political subjects. But in the absence of a truly free global encyclopedia, Wikipedia is as close as we might get to lists like these.
Okay, now back to reading One Direction's entry.